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A life away from life


An exhibition of photographers from Kerala at Vadehra Art Gallery and sculptures by Riyas Komu at Rabindra Bhawan draw references from life - past and present.

CO-EXISTENCE A creation of Bose Krishnamachari displayed at Double Enders

You realise that these are portraits of real people, and their real names are Marx, Lenin, Che Guevara, Soviet Breeze, and they all live in a Kerala village within a radius of five miles. Vivek Vilasini, the artist who presents this body of photographs, speaks of the irony of this form of identity making, and the implications of the burden of history. "That all this naming is happening or has happened in a small village is what inspired me. The day I went to photograph Gorbachev he had gone early to work in the paddy fields and Mao Tse Tung had a fight with the local party bosses and refused to be photographed... " Of course in the course of his travels in Kerala the artist came across many Lenins, Stalins and Gramscis.

This work gains a piquant location in Double Enders - Vadehra Art Gallery - a massive showing of the work of 69 Kerala artists, undertaken by Bose Krishnamachari. That Bose has made state as a basis of his curatorial selection is deeply problematic in that it mimics the parochial divisions of modern Indian politics. Again the spirit of modernity or even the post-modern foregrounds the autonomy of the artwork, paying scant respect to any linguistic or regional forms of identification. Having said that, and for all the conspicuous overcrowding of this show in which video and painting and sculpture are all chokingly close, there is something oddly refreshing about it. For one, it challenges the gallery as the mediator between the viewer and the artist, and in fact throws up a non-hierarchical, no fuss mode of presentation.

For another there are some unexpected surprises, and the deductions that one can make, of the artist as agent of change within the state or in Diaspora can make for some rich interface. Anup Mathew Thomas, now based in London has done a series of images of the Bombay dance bars just before their closure. The subject is treated formally, as elite interiors in magazines on the subject merit, the vivid colours, odd combinations of the art deco, filmic and bazaar designs creating velvet lined spaces of middle class desire, that soft fuse into one another. Ayisha Abraham returns to the subject of the family, of the past as harbinger of change as it reflects on the present in her brief video work. Gigi Scaria, who has established by now a highly workable dead pan style presents a 15 minute work Lost in the City, which moves through degrees of closure, until the solitary middle class subject accepts a state of confinement. Gigi resists many of the seductions of the medium to develop a flat documentary mode of narration for a state verging on a pathology that speaks of the bewilderment and isolation of metropolitan existence. In the plethora of painting on view what stands out is the treatment of the mythic fabular, in artists like Ajji VN and Gopikrishna.

The Third Day by Riyas Komu.

Sculptures too

The concept is completely out of the box, making this show of sculpture appear aggressively different. If you stand in the middle of Riyas Komu's exhibition - Sakshi at the Rabindra Bhavan gallery - you will be flanked on either side by what appear to be symbols of civlisation, even detritus of the evacuated past. The crescent like curve of the gallery wall supports a series of striated onion shaped domes, their wooden surface pitted as if with burn marks, their bodies overwritten and interjected with calligraphy that reads without meaning. On the facing wall there is the effect of medieval Christian armour like pieces, that yield the shape of the cross. The sense of lost habitations is accentuated by three small house/church shaped wooden structures, lopsidedly perched on wooden pillars, supported on a carpet, the site for ibadat, formal welcome and feasting. An interjection of our own times is suggested by the work The Lost Resonance, created by Komu in a city garage in Bombay, in which large metallic forms painted in red automotive paint contain within the form of the cross a used charred urn. In fact the form of the chalice and the urn, common to all religions as containers for oblations, purification and benediction appears repetitively, suggestive of the passage of domination now rendered empty, much like museum objects of the past. In one sculpture titled The Third Day for instance, the reference draws as much from the Book of Genesis as from the day of the Resurrection, marking in a sense the passage of presences. Komu's experiences as the son of a trade union leader, who was also a Gandhian in a culturally active inheritance is perhaps the source from which he draws.

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